Musical Operating Systems
In the beginning, there was MS-DOS, and it was klunky. (Still is.) Then Steve and company took a trip to Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and saw something wonderful. They came home and turned it into the Macintosh.
How many of us remember that first Mac operating System? I barely do. When Macs first reached my high school, I was still firmly entrenched in the Apple II culture, still drooling over the newly delivered Apple IIGS. Who wanted to use a silly black and white machine, when you could have color? AutoDuel! Print Shop! Wizardry! AppleWorks GS!
That silly black and white machine has matured somewhat since then. It's turned into a huge success (yes, I said success) pulling in over $10 billion a year, spawning a significant imitator, and a new user experience. We should always remember however, that it is the software that makes it great, not the machines. Anybody (well, anybody with a license) can build a Macintosh computer. But only one company puts out the Mac operating system, the Mac OS.
A number of years ago (so many that my memory doesn't go back that far), Apple announced that they were working on System 8 and System 9 simultaneously. System 8, codenamed Copland, would introduce a lot of new technologies to Apple computers, and would be especially useful to PowerPC machines. System 9, codenamed Gershwin, was to be a complete revolution, a new operating system from the ground up, with new foundations ensuring its survival into the next century. That was a long time ago.
Copland, now called Mac OS 8, has been delayed at least two years, and no fixed release date has been announced. In a memo to developers, Heidi Roizen, Apple's chief in charge of developer relations, said that the customer release was scheduled for mid-1997. Developer releases, once scheduled for September 1995, would begin this summer, a year late.
In the meantime, Apple has told us that an interim release, containing a number of the technologies already developed (OpenDoc, Cyberdog, etc.) would come out sometime this fall. Codenamed Harmony, it's clearly intended to smooth the ruffled feathers of Apple's not-quite-as-loyal-as-they-once-were customers. The final specs for Harmony have not been released, so I can't offer with any certainty what features will be included.
But there's a lot going on with Copland (I just can't seem to shake that codename.), and here's what I know.
BTW, if you want more, check out <http://www.macos.apple.com> on the web.
You can also read the MacUser cover story on Mac OS 8 at <http://www.zdnet.com/macuser/mu_0896/features/cover.html>.
A Fine Musician
Aaron Copland was a fine musician, and by all accounts his operating system will be a fine one, too. There are currently no plans to offer Copland for non-PowerPC machines, although a number of its components will be available. Most likely, Harmony will be the last full release for 680X0 computers.
What will Copland offer? Besides the neat interface enhancements we all know about from Greg Landweber's cool Aaron utility, I mean.
Lots of stuff. Here are just a few of the salient features you can pine for:
- It'll be completely PowerPC native, so those of you with PowerPC computers will benefit from added speed when running your native programs. The emulator (for running non Power Mac software) will also be faster, though reports have Connectix (the company responsible for RAM Doubler and SpeedDoubler) working on a killer emulator, supposedly much faster than Apple's.
- Much more stable. Copland begins to implement a protected memory structure. Under System 7, any software could affect any other software, including the System files. If one crashes, others are likely to crash, too. Under Copland, much of the critical material runs under Supervisor mode, while everything else, including applications, runs under User mode. User mode software cannot affect supervisor mode stuff. Gist of it is: we should crash a lot less often with Copland, and what crashes we do have should be less serious.
- A new finding engine to deal, as Apple puts it, "with a world of gigabyte sized hard drives." If you've used System 7.5's new finding tool, you know basically what it'll look like. But with this new version you'll be able to do another cool thing: save your findings. Say you do a search for all files with ATPM in them. A little while later, you get a window with a listing of all the files on your Mac (plus any attached drives, computers, etc.) that have anything to do with ATPM. You can save that window and open it again later. Better yet, any new documents you've created that have ATPM in them will have been added to the window when you open your saved search.
Essentially, this is a context sensitive folder window. You can have a collection of files grouped by whatever you choose, whatever you search for. Now one Documents folder makes sense. No more nesting folders twelve deep just to keep things organized. Just perform a search for all files containing "Dear" and "MN" and save that search. Every new cover letter you write for a job in Minneapolis will appear in the window when you open your search next time. I'm excited for this feature.
- New Get Info box. The single coolest thing about this improvement (now that System 7.5.3 lets us save comments in Get Info boxes) is that you'll be able to preview documents. A window (see below) will open to let you see what the document looks like. And no thumbnails here, this is a pretty big picture.
- Apple has also swallowed a bit of crow and will provide us with Pop-up windows: windows that can be reduced to tabs at the bottom of the screen, much like Windows 95's taskbar. Hey, even if it's been done on Windows, it's still useful, right? That, plus automatically opening folders (hold the mouse over it and it opens, allowing you to drag an object several layers down into a folder nest) and sticky menus (another Windows-original) should make navigation easier in Copland.
Most of these capabilities are available from shareware or third party vendors now. In fact, I've got automatically opening folders, sticky menus, and a taskbar running on my Mac right now.
- Copland's help facilities will become more robust. When you're having a problem, you'll be able to hit a key and ask the computer what an item is, or how to use it do something. Balloon help will answer the "What?" question, and Apple Guide will tell you "How" to do something. Plus, every so often a tips window will come up, suggesting another way to do something, or offering advice on how to do something more efficiently. It'll watch how you work, and only offer useful suggestions, which you can ignore, of course.
- Remember that AT&T commercial where the woman comes into the room and is informed by her computer (and the eager, wagging dog icon on the screen) that all her bidding has been done, that so-and-so called, and that the basketball tickets are still not secured? Well, reality is one step closer to this.
Copland will allow you to set up your computer to automatically do several things. First, you can set an action to occur at a specific time, or after a particular event. For example, you can schedule a backup to occur right before shutting down. Or you can tell your computer to check your mail right after starting up, but only if this is the first time you've started your computer for the day, or if it's after five pm. You can also set your computer to notify you when stuff happens, like when you get e-mail from your sweetie, or when the CNN Interactive web page is updated.
And finally, Copland will include Experts, a lot like Microsoft's Wizards. These are routines that will perform complicated tasks for you, like setting up your computer, or connecting to remote computers.
These aren't intelligent agents, especially as John Sculley imagined them eight years ago. But they're a step in that direction.
A Not So Fine Musician
So what's the other side of this story? What's going to break between now and Copland? A few critical things, although Apple has tried hard to offer System 7 compatibility with Copland.
Device drivers are dead. Those files you load from floppies to run your printers, scanners, joysticks, etc. All dead. You'll have to get replacements before you install OS 8, or none of those things will work.
INITs are pretty much dead. Control Panels, Extensions, you name it. If you use a little utility that patches the system, it's toast. Apple decided to kill these in order to make the system more stable, as INITs are the major contributing factor to system crashes.
Desk Accessories are dead. (Desk accessories?) Yes, that's right, those things we used to use under System 6. Today, most of what we have in the Apple Menu are actually applications, and that's fine. An occasional desk accessory still survives, however. Well, not in Copland.
All of this goes towards producing a simpler, stabler system, and it aims for Gershwin's next generation operating system. I'll be sorry to part with some of my favorites, like AutoClock and HoverBar, but maybe they'll be updated.
A Better Musician
Gershwin, the system-to-be-named-later, will come after the Mac OS 8 has been released for a while. Apple is not guaranteeing backwards compatibility with System 7 for this release. Gershwin is supposed to be the culmination of the first steps taken with Copland. We can hope, fervently, that it'll be out soon, after OS 8, hopefully in time to counteract Microsoft's sure Windows 2000 hype. (You can bet your eyeteeth there'll be a Windows 2000.)
And to the naysayers out there, you can be sure there'll be a Mac OS to stand up to Windows 2000. Sooner or later, Windows won't find a seat in this game of Musical Operating Systems, and Apple intends to be there to watch.
|"Musical Operating Systems" is © 1996 by RD Novo.
RD Novo is the publisher of ATPM. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also in This Series
- Mac-in-Bash Attack · June 1997
- April Showers Bring May Flowers · May 1997
- April Showers · April 1997
- Marching Forward · March 1997
- What’s NeXT for ATPM? · January 1997
- Not Looking Back · December 1996
- Financially Speaking… · November 1996
- Stay Wired, Stay Tuned, Stay Ready · October 1996
- OpenDoc is Your Software Port o’ Call · September 1996
- Complete Archive